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Journalists Accuse Military of Violating Press Freedom

June 22, 1989

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ The Sudanese Journalists’ Union on Thursday accused security authorities of violating press freedom by detaining six journalists and shutting down two newspapers, an independent newspaper reported.

The daily Al-Usbua also reported that one of the detained journalists had relayed an offer from Prime Minister Sadek Mahdi for ousted President Gaafar Nimeiri to end his exile in Egypt and return home as a civilian.

Al-Usbua said newspaper editor Sidahmed Khalifa met with Mahdi before traveling to Egypt to interview Nimeiri, and suggested the former military dictator be allowed home. It said Mahdi agreed, a statement the president denies.

In Cairo, Nimeiri said Khalifa had relayed a verbal offer from Mahdi to ″return to Sudan and work and talk and criticize the political situation.″ Nimeiri said he had welcomed Mahdi’s invitation, but would have preferred it in writing.

Mahdi denied he granted Khalifa permission to invite Nimeiri back. He told the Constituent Assembly, Sudan’s parliament, that he told Khalifa he would hold the editor responsible if the interview with Nimeiri was against the national interests of the government.

The alleged invitation reportedly was delivered several weeks before the military command disclosed Sunday an abortive coup attempt by Nimeiri supporters. Nimeiri says the report was fabricated to distract Sudanese from the country’s myriad problems.

Four journalists have been arrested and one newspaper closed down in connection with the reported coup attempt.

Yusuf Shanbali, secretary-general of the Sudanese Journalists’ Union, said the government should use the courts, not detentions and indefinite bans, to prosecute journalists accused of misconduct.

″We appreciate the critical circumstances, but this does not justify trangressing the freedom of the press,″ Shanbali said. ″The union rejects any breach of the freedom of the press.″

Press freedom did not exist here during Nimeiri’s 16 years in power. Since his defense minister overthrew him in 1985, however, the government has rid itself of all media organs except the national news agency and official radio and TV stations.

The first significant media restriction under the current civilian government came in spring when the army banned reports of military actions in the south, where rebels fighting for more autonomy had captured key towns.

One newspaper, the biweekly Al-Rai, apparently was singled out for ignoring the embargo on military news. It was shut down in February and its editor, Mohammed Medani Tawfik, was arrested.

After Sunday’s coup plot announcement, security authorities arrested editor-in-chief Khalifa and closed his triweekly Al-Wattan, which had published a series of interviews with Nimeiri.

Also detained this week were Salah Mattar, a journalist with the independent daily Al-Khartoum and three other reporters from Al-Wattan and Al- Rai.

Update hourly